The beaches of Normandy

The beaches of Normandy: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword – June 6 1944, 06.30h

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Utah beach

The craft bearing the 4th Infantry Division assaulting Utah were pushed by the current to a spot about 1,800 metres (2,000 yd) south of their intended landing zone. The troops met light resistance, suffering less than 200 casualties. Their efforts to push inland fell far short of their targets for the first day, but they were able to advance about 4 miles (6.4 km), making contact with the 101st Airborne.

The airborne landings west of Utah were not very successful, as only ten per cent of the paratroopers landed in their drop zones. Gathering the men together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls, and marshes.

The 82nd Airborne captured its primary objective at Sainte-Mère-Église and worked to protect the western flank. Its failure to capture the river crossings at the River Merderet resulted in a delay in sealing off the Cotentin Peninsula. The 101st Airborne helped protect the southern flank and captured the lock on the River Douve at La Barquette, but did not capture the assigned nearby bridges on the first day.

The casualties at Utah beach were 197 men.

beaches of normandy: utah beach
Infantry advance over the sea-wall at Utah beach

Pointe du Hoc

beaches of normandy: pointe du hocAt Pointe du Hoc, the task for the two hundred men of 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lt. Colonel James Rudder, was to scale the 30-metre (98 ft) cliffs with ropes and ladders to destroy the gun battery located there. While under fire from above, the men scaled the cliff, only to discover that the guns had already been withdrawn.

The Rangers located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them. Under attack, the men at the point became isolated, and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not come until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion arrived.

Omaha beach

Omaha, the most heavily defended beach, was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, supplemented by troops from the 29th Infantry Division. They faced the 352nd Infantry Division, rather than the expected single regiment. Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or caused them to be delayed. Casualties were heavier than all the other beaches combined, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above. Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to offer supporting artillery fire.

American soldiers advancing on Omaha beach
American soldiers advancing on Omaha beach (photo: Robert Capa)

Exit from the beach was possible only via five gullies, and by late morning barely six hundred men had reached the higher ground. By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the draws of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.

The casualties at Omaha beach were 2.500 men.

Gold beach

gold beach 1944
Gold beach, June 7 1944

At Gold, high winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were landed close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned. Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strong point, and its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00. On the western flank, the Royal Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry “B”), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno.

The casualties at Gold beach were 413 men.

Juno beach

Landings of infantry at Juno beach were delayed because of rough seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences. In spite of these difficulties, the Canadians quickly cleared the beach and created two exits to the villages above. Delays in taking Bény-sur-Mer led to congestion on the beach, but nightfall the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep.

The casualties at Juno beach were 1.063 men.

canadian soldiers at juno beach
Canadian soldiers with Nazi flag

Sword beach

On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks made it safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30. They quickly cleared the beach and created several exits for the tanks. In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, making manoeuvring the armour difficult. The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry began advancing to Caen on foot but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support after advancing within a few kilometres of the town. At 16:00, the German 21st Panzer Division mounted a counterattack between Sword beach and Juno beach and nearly succeeded in reaching the channel. They met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Mechanised Division and were soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux.

The casualties at Sword beach were 630 men.

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